Thursday, March 22, 2012

'American Idol' Top 10 Thoughts on Top 10

Colton Dixon performs "Piano Man" from the Billy Joel songbook.

Okay, so sue me, I used a picture of Colton Dixon again for my "American Idol" thoughts. I did love his performance for Top 10 night, but you also have to admit that was pretty cool staging. Definitely a bit of the pimp spot magic tonight for Colton on "AI." But here are my quick thoughts on the Top 10 tonight:

DeAndre Brackensick, "Only the Good Die Young": Am seriously starting to believe that DeAndre should have waited a couple of years before trying "American Idol" again. He's too nervous, too shy, and way too naive. He had no clue how to perform this song, and it was all hair-tossing again and looking bewildered. Love his potential, but not sure it will be realized here.

Erika Van Pelt, "New York State of Mind": I don't understand how no matter what they do to this 20-something girl, she comes off matronly. Give her a Pink-esque haircut and viewers online were calling it "Liza Minnelli." And as often as Erika talks about her rocker side, she took a ballad and turned it into a piano bar number. Ugh. Nice voice, but just not feelin' it.

Read more: Does "American Idol" still need Simon Cowell?

Joshua Ledet, "She's Got a Way": Speaking of not feelin' it, Joshua was obviously not into this song or the mentors' advice to tone down the screaming. While he began with some restraint, just when I was about to be ready to compliment his performance, he brought out a gospel choir and ramped this sweet, tender song up to 11. "STOP!" I screamed at the TV, but he just went on. Just a guess, but I'm getting the impression that if "American Idol" wants Joshua to really feel the lyrics, they need to stop giving him songs about women.

Skylar Laine, "Shameless": I loved Skylar's early performances on "American Idol," and was excited about a country singer I actually wanted to listen to. But the last couple of weeks, no matter what the mentors tell her, she keeps oversinging. The uniqueness and sweet tone of her voice get lost in a wail, and it could seriously cost her votes.

Elise Testone, "Vienna": I like that Elise stuck to her guns and did a lesser-known song because it was totally the right tune for her. Her smoky vocals came closest to paying tribute to the awesomeness of Billy Joel, and while she did slip a few wonky notes in, I like the unusual little acrobatic interludes she tosses in, particularly the ending run that had me feeling all burlesque-y and "Moulin Rouge"-y for some reason. Good stuff, and hopefully launches her out of the dreaded bottom 3.

Read more: 5 Things We Hate About 'American Idol' Season 11

Phillip Phillips, "Movin' Out": I felt like Phil was nearing Casey Abrams-schtick territory with this one. The strange facial expressions were more on display here, it was a little screamy, and he killed Joel's melody dead. David Cook was a master at preserving melody while attacking it from a different direction, and Phil hasn't reached those heights for me yet.

Hollie Cavanagh, "Honesty": I'm still not clear on how putting Hollie in a pantsuit and overdone make-up was supposed to make her look younger. Seriously, put this girl in a ponytail and a print dress and let her be the adorable sprite she is. I thought the judges were a bit harsh on Hollie, because she did better conveying the meaning of the song than several of the other contestants, even if she did have a few clunky notes here and there.

Heejun Han, "My Life": It's rare to see Steven Tyler look P.O.'d on "American Idol," but he definitely was after this comedy of a performance. "Did you feel good taking the piss out of that song?" Steven asked, absolutely nailing the critique. It seemed clear that Heejun wasn't a fan of the criticism he got last week and so decided to just make fun of the whole thing. Maybe that's what he's been doing from the start. But everything from his childish wardrobe to his pretend "false start" to his mocking tone on the lyrics was an insult to the contestants taking the show seriously, even moreso because one of them will probably go home in his place tomorrow night.

Read more: Will Former 'American Idol' Reject Colton Dixon Make it on Season 11?

Jessica Sanchez, "Everybody Has a Dream": Though I'm no longer the fan I was back in Hollywood, I do still admire Jessica's voice and I did enjoy some of the verve she showed on this song once she warmed up to it. The Mariah Carey-like punctuated high notes near the end were my favorite, and it was a pretty good pop diva moment for her.

Colton Dixon, "Piano Man": The piano playing and soft verses were sublime on this piece, and I still love that little plaintive wail he's got when he goes up for the bigger notes. To be fair to his critics, he may have overused the break a bit too much here--or it just happened naturally from pushing a bit too much on the chorus. However, I'm willing to endure a few flaws in order to enjoy the emotion in his voice, and the different textures of tone he offers in each performance. And the red piano and floodlights were awesome.

What do you think, "American Idol" fans? Who were your favorites tonight? Will we finally have some guys in the Bottom 3, as it should be, or will Heejun laugh his way to the safe stools?

PHOTO: "American Idol" Top 10 screencrap, c2012, FOX.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

'American Idol' Top 13 Performance Night -- P.S. I Love Colton Dixon

American Idol contestant Colton Dixon sings Stevie Wonder's "Lately".

If this first night of the Top 13 is any indication, it's going to be really tough cutting any of these fine contestants. While there were wobbles and struggles tonight, there were no real train wrecks, and some real gems and surprises. Here are the Top 5 takeaways from the Top 13:

1. Steven Tyler is lucid! Oh no wait, never mind. At the start of the show, the Aerosmith front man was sitting up straight in his seat and actually offering some constructive critiques to the first couple of contestants. And then it started to slide downhill after that, until we ended up with random, meaningless phrases to contestants who looked utterly baffled.

Despite the improvement in Randy's and J-Lo's remarks, and *gasp*, no exclamations of "Inittowinit!!!" you might want to click and see why American Idol still needs Simon Cowell.

2. I loooove Colton Dixon. I was worried at the start of this season, because I remember being so charmed by the quality and character of Colton's voice in Season 10. I was seriously bummed when he got the ax just before the Top 24. When he turned up for Season 11, however, there seemed to be a little something missing in his performances and I was preparing myself for another early exit.

Things got off to a rocky start tonight when Colton attempted Stevie Wonder's "Lately" in rehearsals. Then producer Jimmy Iovine asked the Tennesse boy to sing some of his own work, so Jimmy and guest mentor Mary J. Blige could get a feel for what type of singer he was. Once they knew that, they were able to tune in to Colton's big asset--portraying vulnerability and tenderness.

Once he hit the big American Idol stage there was a tiny bit of nerves, but the character in his voice started to show, and it was finally the Colton I'd flipped for in Season 10. It's not just the skinny pants and hair, but the vulnerability and that sweet warble in his voice that reminds me of wonderful 80s singers like Nik Kershaw (video and live) and Limahl. It's not always technically perfect, no, but there's something plaintive in it that really gets you in the heart. Hence, the love.

3. Please retire "I Will Always Love You". Jennifer Hudson's beautiful tribute to Whitney Houston with her performance of this song on the Grammys should have been the final word on the subject. But no, then we had to hear it on "Glee", and now on "American Idol", and it feels like cheapening Whitney's memory rather than honoring it. This was her song because *no one* else could sing it the way she did, and it hurts to hear people keep trying.

Jessica Sanchez is a fine singer, with great potential, and she took an admirable leap at this big ballad. Despite all the fanfare online and the judges' standing ovation, however, her voice is still young and a little thin and she doesn't have the maturity to pull off the emotion of this song. The final three notes were delivered exquisitely, which is to her credit, but she ain't no Whitney. She isn't even J-Hud. But I'll still be happy to see what she can do with a song next week.

4. Mary J. Blige rocks. An awesome American Idol mentor, she really gave the contestants good advice. Even better, she was able to sing that advice, which is the best way for the contestants to understand what she's looking for in terms of pitch, phrasing, cadence, vibrato and so on. She was honest, to the point, and when the singers followed her advice they did amazingly well.

One of the problems that happened with many contestants, particularly the girls, was exactly the type of thing Mary warned against--pushing too hard. Everyone is in a big hurry to get to that glory note, and they end up tanking on the rest of the song--and then totally oversinging the crescendo. Hence Shannon Magrane's strangled notes.

5. New rules. Tomorrow night the judges will pick who stays from the lowest boy and girl vote-getters. Shannon and Jermaine seem most in danger, but Jeremy and Erica are possibles, never mind the shocking whims of the voting public that could eliminate a talented singer way too soon. I'm assuming the boys vs. girls format is an effort to control the early demise of anyone who isn't a cute white boy, and I'm fine with this type of damage control. (And yes, I get the irony that my favorite is a cute white boy.) Oddly, J-Lo said she wanted two girls to have a sing-off, so I'm trying to decide which one of us has misunderstood the rules.

What do you think, "American Idol" fans? Who do you expect to go home tomorrow night? Were you happy to hear Deandre rein in his falsetto and his hair and give a lively, vocally rich performance? Are you cheering on little Hollie with the big voice? Who are your favorites?


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